When you sit in a place that sustained the longest organized protest in modern history, people think you know something. Or at least have some lessons to share about how to deal with spontaneous uprisings. The questions, coming in from organizers in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Oakland, and other cities about what we learned from the Ferguson Uprising, are urgent and relevant.
Questions like how to encourage young people to engage in non-violent protests and still protect them. Like how to think about strategic objectives when emotions are running so high. Like how to deal with the distraction of looters and others who have different agendas.
One of the ugly realities of the mass protests over the last 15-20 years is the infiltration of white extremists who are embedding themselves in our movement for racial and economic justice. They are boldly promoting their plans over social media. Their presence and destructive actions have become more aggressive and more visible in recent years, especially in the aftermath of the public lynching of an unarmed, shackled black man by white cops in Minneapolis.
The infiltration of white supremacists into police departments, military and elected office is not new. The FBI has been tracking the situation for years as has groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center.
We also heard it from insiders. Scott Shepherd, once a Grand Dragon in the Ku Klux Klan, is now an anti-racist activist. There’s Christian Picciolini, a reformed neo-Nazi now working to de-radicalize white supremacist extremists. Picciolini once told the media, “A lot of these old skinheads and [Ku Klux] Klansmen have gone into the mainstream.” Yeah, we know.
Now these cast of characters are targeting legitimate protests for their twisted, racist motives. They have stolen from black culture, using words like “boogaloo” as the code for civil war. The ultimate goal is to start a race war where all people of color (and Jews) would be decimated. Ethnic cleansing would give way to a pure white race.
Observers have noted parallel recruitment of white supremacists to the police and armed forces and from police and military into white extremist groups. It is a fluid transition that is well-documented. One example is the two Florida law enforcers who were exposed as Klansmen. Deputy Chief David Borst resigned, and Officer George Hunnewell was fired. They are not exceptions to the rule.
What is not as well documented in the planned coordination between these white extremist “protestors” and white police. What we have seen over the years is black, brown, Asian businesses being torched or vandalized by these provocateurs with little to no intervention by police. You did not see such allowance last weekend when protesters converged on The Plaza, Kansas City’s exclusive shopping district. Or armed, white militia taking over the Michigan State House, and know that if those were young, black men armed with automatic rifles, the outcome would be quite deadly.
We are seeing these white extremists being directly confronted by justice-seeking protesters of all hues. This could really escalate if we do not publicly expose their agenda and they are told in no uncertain terms, “You are not welcome!”
No justice, no peace. It’s not just a chant. It is an ultimatum.